ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

›› 2009, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (06): 510-518.

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Abusive Supervision and Employee Performance: Mechanisms of Traditionality and Trust

WU Long-Zeng;LIU Jun;LIU Gang   

  1. Business School, Renmin University of China, Beijing100872, China
  • Received:2008-08-29 Revised:1900-01-01 Published:2009-06-30 Online:2009-06-30
  • Contact: LIU Gang

Abstract: Abusive supervision has attracted increasing attention in Western academy of management. In mainland China, there is no such academic investigation though, in practice, abusive supervision is prevailing due to Chinese cultural root that is characterized by hierarchy and high level of power distance. To fill the gap, the study aims to address: within the context of Chinese organizations, what are the major mediating and moderation mechanisms linking abusive supervision and employee performance? Drawing on the social exchange theory, we propose that employee’s trust in the supervisor will mediate the relationship between abusive supervision and employee outcomes. We also propose that employee traditionality will moderate the process that abusive supervision exerts negative influence on employee outcomes. Theoretically, this echoes the call for examining the role of followers in the process of leadership (Howell & Shamir, 2005).
In total, 338 employees and 128 their supervisors from 6 electronic manufacturing enterprises located in Beijing were sampled. To avoid the common method variance problem, two waves as well as two sources of survey were administrated. In the first wave, employees were asked to provide ratings of abusive supervision and self-reported traditionality. In the second wave, employees provided ratings of trust in supervisors. In both waves, supervisors provided ratings of employee performance including task and organizational citizenship behaviors. Time 1 performance data was controlled when predicting Time 2 performance, which was the outcome of the study. The final matched sample included 283 employees and 112 direct supervisors, resulting valid response rates 83.7% and 87.5% for employees and supervisors, respectively. Among the major measures, the 15-item abusive supervision scale was adopted from Tepper (2000) study; trust in supervisor was measured via 6 items that was adopted from Wong et al. (2002) study. The 5-item task performance scale and the 14-item organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) scale were adapted from Williams and Anderson (1991). Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for above measures were from 0.85 to 0.95, indicating acceptable measurement reliabilities.
Hierarchical Regression Modeling (HRM) was employed to analyze the data. Results show that: in the Chinese organizational context, trust in supervisor mediates the relationship between abusive supervision and employee performance, demonstrating that social exchange is a unique angle for explaining how abusive supervision leads to negative employee outcomes. Comparing to non-traditional ones, traditional employees will more likely comply with abusive supervisors. They will respond less distrust in abusive supervisors. This finding could, to a large extent, offer insights why abusive supervisor is prevailing in Chinese organizations.

Key words: abusive supervision, trust, traditionality, task performance, organizational citizenship behavior